14 September, 2005

Body count

This is about the tsunami aftermath, but it pretty much works for New Orleans, too. 'Cept, of course, they're letting some of those bodies lie a while there.

As might any creature, coming home,
to a ransacked den,
to the reek of foreignness and fear,
to wreckage and wet,
this bulldozer pauses
in its slow investigation

and dips its chin in the puddle,
and lifts a form,
thinly silvered
with mud and the low light
of the end of the work-a-day.

The legs are crook’d
over the rim of the bucket.
They bounce a little, as metal doesn’t,
as wood or plastic, board and shard do not.
They give and recover, though they’re grey.
They have, I see now, feet,
pale, partly wiped of mud.

Cradling the thing, the machine
(the man in the machine, of course)
backs out of the puddle.
(All the way the legs continue
to be legs, of a person gathered up dead
of whom nobody knows
name, family, or even nation.)

Then the arm lowers
like a creature’s long neck.
It lays the full, silvered length of the body
gently in the shallows.
It withdraws its teeth.

I go elsewhere, where the journalist takes me.
He strides around a resort,
he talks,
he points to the greened swimming-pool,
he is full of griefly self-importance. But

the disaster is already told.
It lies between us in the putrid mud.
Its limbs, that shine, don’t move.
Its silver face, that could be anyone’s,
is not.


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